I have no religious beliefs. I don’t believe in higher powers. For me what’s important in life is knowledge; beauty and enjoyment; and doing good. None of the religions that I know of ring true with what I believe in.
I believe in evolution, and in scientific knowledge, though it’s an imperfect work-in-progress. When it comes to human beings living together as a collective, I believe that we’ve developed patterns and behaviours that are beneficial to the whole group. So some communities and societies are well proven to work well – those in which we do good for each other. I think as people we should work towards the greater good, whether that be working for the environment or for other living beings. And I actually take comfort in the idea that when we die, we break down into molecules and become something else.
But the human desire for knowledge, more material things, to improve our lives – one of the consequences is that that uses up resources. There’s no future for human beings unless we act and change what we do.
That’s something that really troubles me. And meeting my wife and encountering her strong ethical convictions has emboldened me. Sometimes I think: “if I had children, would that make me more active around climate change?” Because at the end of the day, in my lifetime I’ll experience some negative consequences of climate change but I’ll live comfortably the rest of my life. It’ll be the generation after that are most effected.
I often think “I could do more but I don’t: so why don’t I?” It’s not a good excuse, but I feel that my day job – I’m a doctor – takes up a lot of my personal time, and ultimately my job is to serve people; I’m a public servant. I chose to be a doctor because I wanted to do something useful, honourable and always needed no matter how comfortable we are.
I think I was indoctrinated by my parents to be good: to be respectable to people in society and to do good. I enjoy biology and science so I was always going to be in that field – I considered, for example environmental microbiology – but I made this specific choice in order to be of service. My only worry, I suppose, is that prolonging life contributes to environmental degradation.
I come from an atheist family. Growing up a lot of my friends when to church. But I never really bought the story of the Bible. It’s not a very believable story. I feel that there’s a higher chance, for instance, that we descended from aliens than from divine intervention.
It’s not that I’m not open: If God came down from the heavens tomorrow and showed himself to me, I’d be open to new possibilities.
And I think that different religions have values that are good for society. If we could select and choose without all the attached rubbish, then that might be helpful: the Buddhist principal of being peaceful for example. My friends who are Buddhist were quiet, respectful, gentle. They meditate. And I like the idea of self-development, discipline and community.
And I suppose I personally come from a Confucianist culture in Korea where you respect your ancestors. It’s sort of the idea that their spirit is here with us and that if we don’t respect them then we won’t be respected.
Am I personally interested in that though? I don’t know. I don’t like the idea that your behaviours are dictated by your beliefs, or that someone coming up with a particular course or doctrine that you have to follow. I think you act nicely to people because it’s good. And I feel that as humans we should be strong enough to find inspiration in ourselves or in logical things rather than in made-up stories.
I face a lot of ethical dilemmas. I went to the supermarket today and bought some beef. And I felt guilty. I wanted to buy pork but I didn’t because I felt guilty [laughing]. I don’t have guilt about eating meat; it’s just the environmental thing.
And bigger things. So today I was at a protest. At one point we took over the road and stopped traffic. Law-breaking isn’t my thing. So that made me feel awkward. I believe in free speech and protest but not in being a public nuisance.
When it comes to anything environmental at work, people often pass it to me. I can’t really tell if they’re being cynical or supportive [laughing]. I think I do sometimes judge people in the sense that I wonder why they aren’t more actively participating in the world.